DevoManc, A Bad Deal Just Got Even Worse

Council Leaders need to stop Labouring under the delusion that they are in control says Jenny Ross

Ostensibly, devolution seems like a good thing, a chance for an area to become autonomous, no longer subject to the hostile whims of Westminster, free to chart its own destiny and define itself on its own terms; but scrutinise the DevoManc deal and you’ll see that Osborne’s much touted ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is more like a ‘Mancunian Workhouse’ offering about as much freedom to Greater Manchester as a choke lead does to an errant dog, and Osborne has wasted no time tightening the lead.

Campaigners for a Referendum on DevoManc take to the streets

Campaigners for a Referendum on DevoManc take to the streets

“Responsibility for a devolved and consolidated transport budget, with a multi-year settlement” clearly seemed like a good idea at the time to the ten, mainly Labour, council leaders who rushed off behind closed doors to sign the DevoManc deal with George Osborne, without the merest whiff of public oversight. Unfortunately, like people about to be taken in by a payday loan lender, they forgot to heed the small print: that the deal is “subject to future Spending Review”.

The Chancellor’s post-election ’emergency budget’ just so happens to assure that every single ‘freedom’ Osborne had bestowed on Greater Manchester was precisely where he was making the most brutal cuts: transport, further education and business and skills.

Now Council leaders’ opportunity to build a Greater Manchester integrated transport system to rival London’s winning Transport for London has been severely impeded by Osborne hacking £545 million off the national transport budget, and devolved powers to “shape and re-structure the further education provision” and design business skills provision have both been hit by a £450 million national shortfall. Bad news for apprenticeship schemes in an area with some of the highest youth employment in the country.

What was sold as an opportunity to protect Greater Manchester from Westminster cuts seems, in the cold light of day, to be nothing more than having further responsibility for passing them down. With no opportunity to raise taxes, only an an ‘earnback scheme’ posited on narrow national growth targets, and subject to sanction if they’re not met, Tory-led Westminster are still calling the tune and Labour Council Heads are far too keen to dance to it, particularly when one of the dubious privileges they’ve been awarded is to co-commission the Workfare programme – playing Fagin to Osbourne’s Scrooge.

In an area where both Tameside and Wigan councils have volunteered to subject the most vulnerable members of their boroughs to the vagaries of Universal Credit and Troubled Families pilot schemes, alongside zealously enforcing the government sanction regime, the karmic irony can’t be lost on people that when Council Leaders are inevitably forced to go to Osborne begging bowl in hand to ask “Please Sir, can we have some more?” The answer, to the detriment of us all, will inevitably be, “No.”

Sign here to demand a referendum on DevoManc

The Queen’s Speech: To fix our economy and protect our planet we must invest for the future

 

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The Green take on what parliament’s focus should be following its opening this week.

by Caroline Lucas

Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech should be a chance for the government to set out how it will use the next five years to deliver long term meaningful social, economic and environmental progress in Britain. Yet it seems increasingly likely that we’re set to witness instead another missed opportunity for the change in direction this country so desperately needs.

The most worrying omission from the government’s pre-Queen’s Speech announcements is any substantial action on climate change. If David Cameron is to be taken seriously as a world leader on the most pressing issue of modern times, then he must be far bolder in implementing policies which allow us to do what the science requires: leave the vast majority of our existing reserves of oil, coal and gas in the ground and unburned.

Tackling the climate crisis is not only a way out of the economic difficulties we face, it’s also an unprecedented opportunity to invest in an economy fit for the 21st century. If we were to invest in an ambitious energy conservation programme, for example, we’d both work towards ending the scandal of cold homes and save the Exchequer money. A radical insulation programme would return £1.27 in tax revenue for every £1 invested by government and create over 100,000 jobs in the UK. It is a tragedy that ministers are so obsessed with a deficit reduction plan – one that’s failing even on its own terms – that they are turning their backs on such common sense practical action.

This obsession is also what’s driving the threat of billions of pounds of further welfare cuts, in addition to those that are already underway. One in five families, for example, say that they have already had to cut back on food as a result of the below inflation rises in child benefit and child tax credits that have hit 7.7m children. Behind the rhetoric about saving taxpayers’ money is the cruel reality of 7,800 children in my constituency being worse off because of these changes.

Beyond these grim facts, and the missed opportunity of inaction over climate change, is a truth that the Tories don’t want to admit: their plans fail future generations.

A Green parliamentary programme, on the other hand, will seek to propose positive alternatives which have at their heart one core principle: that we must invest now to build a resilient redistributive economy for the future.

That’s why, as well as promoting ambitious action on climate, in my first year back in parliament I’ll be re-tabling my bill to reinstate a fully public NHS by reversing 25 years of marketisation. You only have to look across the Atlantic to see the vast costs associated with private healthcare – yet a government which claims to be the vanguard of financial responsibility will continue to allow the pricey inefficiencies of privatisation infect our healthcare system. It’s time to put an end this costly experiment.

The NHS isn’t the only public service to fall victim to the politics of private interests. The railway system, run for profit and at the expense of passengers who are struggling to afford fares, is in desperate need of an overhaul.
It’s vital that we bring our railways into public ownership. Doing so could save the Treasury £1bn per year – and allow us to invest in a greener, more affordable, alternative to further road building. We know that the majority of the public are in favour of this, and I shall be seeking support from MPs across the political spectrum in re-tabling a Private Member’s Bill to bring our railways to be brought back into public hands as private franchises expire.

There are plenty of credible alternatives to the business as usual to which we are all too often treated – all making sound economic sense. While it’s not looking like many will make it into the Queen’s Speech, they will make it into my Green parliamentary programme which sets out practical measures to secure a decent future for generations to come by creating a fairer, more sustainable Britain.

Published in the New Statesman 26 May, 2015

National Fail: A disaster on the railways

Denton and Reddish Parliamentary Candidate, Nicholas Koopman, on why we should renationalise the railways

It is just over twenty years since THAT fateful decision: the 1993 Railways Act privatised British Rail and replaced it with National Rail. John Major’s government promised much for the commuter: more flexibility, reduced fares, improved investment, and greater efficiency. All this would be brought about, he argued, through increasing competition with the introduction of the franchise system, allowing the Conservatives to sell off another state asset in their quest for a minimal state.

Fast forward twenty years and the picture is in diametric opposition to that Major envisioned: fares have increased dramatically for certain tickets, standard single tickets being a good example, and the overall cost of maintaining the railways has almost doubled.

Multiple private monopolies have replaced the government run system. These are put out to tender, at considerable cost to the taxpayer, and often to foreign governments. The ‘winner’ is awarded the contract for up to fifteen years, which means that there is limited competition between those tendering thus no internal pressure on prices. Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money subsidise these companies in order to merely to provide a basic service. This is well evidenced in the case of Northern Rail, who collected £707 million subsidy and premium.

Wait, I hear you say, surely with the increased fairs and subsidy there must be improved investment? Well, although some development has taken place, it hasn’t been enough to satisfy demand. Trains are dangerously overcrowded; there is often little chance of obtaining a seat on peak journeys on trains more suited to the railway system of the 1970s than the 21st Century. The Hadfield crash, in 2000, uncovered the lack of investment in the railways infrastructure by Railtrack, which has now been taken back under state control.

An over-crowded commuter train leaving Ashton

An over-crowded commuter train leaving Ashton

The most galling aspect of our current aspect of our ‘franchised’ privatised rail system is the involvement of the foreign state control of our railways: three quarters of our railways are now in ‘foreign’ hands: three quarters! This means that shareholder profits from ‘our’ railways go into improving or reducing fares for citizens in other countries such as Germany or the Netherlands.

Is there a better way? We have a system that is already operating and returning more than two hundred million pounds to the treasury: the state operated East Coast mainline. Moreover, this state owned service received substantially less in subsidies; more people travelling; and increases across all levels of customer satisfaction. This proves that state owned railways can be efficient even when they are ‘the people’s railways’.

Yet, despite all this evidence, this Conservative Government plans to rush through a re-privatisation before the next election: one has to ask why, when it isn’t to increase efficiency or save money.

Railway_Splash

The Green Party proposes that public ownership of the railways would not only enhance our current infrastructure, but would also save one billion pounds a year of taxpayers’ money. Savings can then be invested in improved additional stock and the railway infrastructure, improving the service for passengers and reducing the overcrowding, thereby encouraging more people to travel on public transport. It would also mean the end of inflation busting prices rises for commuters while shareholders take increasingly more profits. What is more, this could be done at very little cost to the taxpayer: unlike Labour’s proposed plan of state bids for franchises. Current franchises could be taken under into public hands as they expire.

The time has come for another approach: the ‘people’s railway’ must return.

For full Green Party transport policy, click here